If My Terrible Memory Is Your Problem, Bookshops Are The Solution

If My Terrible Memory Is Your Problem, Bookshops Are The Solution

In this earlier post, I described my attempts to browse Amazon as if it was as bricks-and-mortar bookshop, and my frustration at the impossibility of stumbling across surprise books which might make my day. I came to the conclusion that nobody is allowed to stumble across anything on Amazon, because you are so narrowly steered towards what they believe we either want or SHOULD want. The overall online experience is quite depressing.

But there was another side to this story. Last week I went into one of my 3 favourite bookshops in Dublin, to buy a book for Father’s Day. I had no idea whatsoever what I was going to buy, so shopping online was out of the question.

This is extremely unusual for me, but I’m now going to tell you what I bought that day. I normally never mention individual books on this blog because it’s an exercise steeped in disappointment, and fraught with danger, but as I haven’t read any of these yet, I’m going to go out on a disclaimer-laden limb. The reason I’m telling you about them is to illustrate a very important point will become clear in time (I know, the SUSPENSE).

Just inside the door, I found my first victim: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole, a crime procedural which was very buzzy at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Fiction Festival in Harrogate last year. “I’ve heard of that,” says I to myself. “It seemed interesting, but then I forgot about it. Dad might like it. I’m going to buy it.”

Next I moved about three feet to another display, of books currently being read by staff. The first title was Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill, a title which caught my eye because it was the name of a blog I always read. “Now I remember where the name came from!” I said to myself. “It seemed like something I might love, but then I forgot about it. I’m going to buy it.”

On I went into the dark caverns of the bookshop. Another display caught my eye, whereupon it kindly gave my eye back, but not before leading me to Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. “I read a mahoosive article in the New York Times about that back in 2016!” I muttered under my breath. “It seemed fascinating, but then I forgot about it. I want to read it myself, but it’s my brother’s birthday shortly, so I’ll pretend it’s for him*. I’m going to buy it.”

If My Terrible Memory Is Your Problem, Bookshops Are The Solution

[Is anyone sensing a pattern here? No prizes if you do, I’m afraid. It’s really quite obvious.]

On I went, without even pausing for refreshment. I’m hardy like that. Next I stopped at a discounted books table, where Anne Enright’s Booker-winning The Gathering swiped right on my literary Tinder. “Every time I hear the name of that book I feel embarrassed that I never read it,” says I to myself. “This stops now. I’m going to buy it.”

Deeper into the bowels of the bookshop this intrepid blogger went, mopping the non-existent sweat from the tongue in her cheek. And there, towards the end of the A-Z General Fiction section, was Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. “Everyone was talking about this when it came out!” I whispered to nobody in particular. “I really wanted to read it, but the hardback was offensively large, and it didn’t feel like something I’d like to read on Kindle, so I said I’d wait for the paperback. Then I forgot about it. I’m going to buy it.”

By this time, I had repetitive strain injury in both wrists from transferring this 5-high stack of books from one hand into the other; so I began the journey to the checkout. (I’m sure bookshop staff would have helped me, had I asked. But I didn’t. I’m awkward like that.)

I turned back the way I’d come, but went behind a stack I’d previously passed the other side of. An array of Edna O’Brien’s books lay before me. “There’s The Little Red Chairs,” I mumbled, not just to myself, as I thought, but apparently also to a startled-looking gentleman on my right. “And Edna O’Brien was born not 200 yards away from my family home. Dad told me only last weekend that this book had been recommended to him. It’s fate. I’m going to buy it.”

If My Terrible Memory Is Your Problem, Bookshops Are The Solution

As I made my last turn around the stacks in the final furlong, a ‘just published’ section snagged my attention (okay, let’s face it, I know it’s not hard, because in a bookshop I’m like a big puppy using its paws to play Whac-a-Mole). I spotted a thriller by Irish author Jo Spain, Beneath The Surface, looking suspiciously like there were only two copies left. “I talked to her only last week on Twitter!” says I to myself. “And she was so lovely I decided to buy her second book afterwards. But then I forgot. I’m going to buy it.”

Just in case you were wondering, there is also a happy ending to this. These seven books didn’t cost half of what you think they’d cost. I was a very happy girl woman.

Is There Any Point To Your Tedious Shopping Story, Tara?

The moral of the story is: I wouldn’t have bought a single one of these books if I’d been shopping on Amazon. None of these books belonged on an ‘also-bought’ list. Each and every one had been a book I’d thought I’d like to buy at some point, but then forgot about.

It made me realise that I actually forget about half the books I think I’ll buy.

It’s tempting to feel disheartened sometimes as an author, to think that you might have persuaded someone to buy your book, only for them to forget. But authors, never fear. A good bookshop can make readers remember, selling your book by sometimes doing little other than reminding us what we already decided on. Amazon doesn’t do that for me. On Amazon, I might have bought just one book. Not seven.

I say this not to bash Amazon; there is a role for everyone in this game. For instance, I’ve frequently bought books from Amazon which aren’t available anywhere else. Especially old titles, which are long out of the spotlight, or obscure titles, particularly in non-fiction.

But if I want a gift for someone? If I want to be reminded of something I thought I’d like but forgot about? If I want to have a pleasurable experience and come away with titles which make me feel good about myself and the world? Then it’s the bricks and mortar bookshop for me.


* Yeah, bro, this is a test. I do frequently complain that none of my family read my blog.

  59 comments for “If My Terrible Memory Is Your Problem, Bookshops Are The Solution

  1. Kelly
    June 20, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Yes, all this! I am all for the iBook store, it has helped me many times when I have had time to read but no book in my bag, but there’s nothing so great as a wander round a bookshop remembering everything you want to read. I have a lovely pile of five waiting their turn patiently next to my bed, courtesy of my brilliant plan for my 40th last summer…I asked everyone to get me book tokens, then I did the same at Christmas and now I’m doing the same for my next birthday – I can’t believe I forgot about them for so many years after loving them as a kid.

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 10:56 am

      Perhaps there’s a savvy marketing campaign in that, Kelly… selling book tokens as an ‘experience’ as well as a voucher. I think it’s about the most thoughtful gift token you can buy, for a book lover!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. June 20, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Reblogged this on Anita Dawes & Jaye Marie.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ali Isaac
    June 20, 2017 at 7:43 am

    I know what you mean… I can’t browse Amazon if I don’t know exactly what I want to read, either. It’s not a pleasant shopping experience in that sense, and I often come away desperate for my next great read and frustrated, with an empty kindle. Amazon is great if you are in the middle of a fantastic series and you’ve just finished one book and its 2am and you’re frantic to download the next one immediately and continue reading. Or if you have something that’s been recommended by a friend you trust. But aimless browsing is useless. You do need a bookshop for that, because there is too much crap to wade through on Amazon and the gold is buried beneath it. Sadly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

      I’m with you on the frustration, Ali. There’s nothing worse than going on Amazon or iBooks when you don’t know what you want. There’s nothing better than going into a bookshop when you don’t know what you want. But I couldn’t do without the online experience when it comes to series, or an author I’ve just fallen in love with.


  4. June 20, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Bookshops, actual walk into bookshops, are magical places, places you can walk around for hours in delightful reverie. Brilliant memory joggers too, as you have discovered… Amazon is good for back lists and golden oldies, so we have everything covered…

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 8:25 am

      You’re so right – bookshops are totally magical. They are in fact Portals to the Enchanted Land of Reading.

      (Just to be clear here, that’s Reading as in reading a book. Not the town on the M4. Although that may be magical, too – I wouldn’t know.)

      Anyway, there’s nothing quite like holding a real book in your real hand. Amazon has its place, but an old-school bookshop beats it hands-down for proper browse. Plus, choosing a real book is such a tactile experience – you can feel the weight of it, check out the quality of the paper, run your fingers over the embossed print on the cover. You can fully appreciate its cover art, its blurbs and its flap copy. And riffle through the pages and inhale that new book smell …

      Sorry. Gotta go! I’m off to the bookstore.

      Liked by 3 people

      • June 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

        I don’t want to alarm you, Sue, but I’ve just had a deluge of comments from the town of Reading, asking why you hate them so much. I hope you have enough books to hide with (or behind)


    • June 20, 2017 at 10:59 am

      Yes, it’s like an episode of Sesame Street! There’s room for everyone and we should all love each other!! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  5. June 20, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Despite the fact that I read very few paper books nowadays, I love bookshops and I really enjoy getting lost between the shelves. Hard to do on Amazon as I would end up reading either cookbooks or crime. My world is slightly wider than that (though not much).

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 20, 2017 at 11:01 am

      I’ve just had a brilliant idea, Conor. A CRIME COOKBOOK. Your choice whether it’s food that kills, or a crime that’s delicious…


  6. Liberty On the Lighter Side - (LOLS)
    June 20, 2017 at 10:50 am

    The main problem with Amazon, I find, is that you can’t sniff the books, that’s also the only reason I don’t have a kindle. Seriously though, I think it’s really encouraging in a digital age where music shops are packing it in, that the bookshop is still doing ok. The complete sensory experience of books can’t be beat. *ps, I read a blog where the writer said her Mum was her only supporter for years – I thought ‘lucky for some’.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 11:04 am

      I know what you mean, but you have to be careful… I mean you start with book sniffing, then next thing you know, you’re taking them intravenously, mainlining genre fiction like it grows on trees. It’s a slippery slope.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. June 20, 2017 at 11:26 am

    I find this every time I wonder through a bookshop, piles of books that I ‘forgot’ to buy. Sadly I still don’t get to read half as much as I’d like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 20, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      I think the last time I got to read as much as I liked I was on a 2-week holiday with someone I wasn’t getting on with, Donna. 11 books in 14 days. Barely came up for air to eat…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. June 20, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Nowadays in Canada we have one main bookstore (with two names–but they are the same) and a few small stores spread out over a vast area.
    I remember when I lived in London, Ontario. They had a lovely bookshop just a stone’s throw from my house. My roommate and I wandered around there many times, making plans for books we would read when we caught up on our studies (I was a literature major, so I was never caught up and he was studying the classics). I found so many books that I have yet to read……ah someday.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      Never too late to attack an unrealistic TBR pile I find. Although the longer I leave it, the more I forget…

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 20, 2017 at 8:01 pm

        The pile is huge…but I am doing a good job this year.
        The book that I remember most wanting to read was…..I believe…the Alexandrian Quartet? or something like that. It isn’t on my radar anymore, but one never knows.
        These days, my thoughts are to read
        Lila by Robert M. Pirsig
        The follow up novel to The Pigman
        the November Man series
        Re read the Dresden Files books
        Read some new SF
        And I’ve got a bunch of books out of the library.

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 20, 2017 at 9:34 pm

          Robert M. Pirsig! I haven’t read him since college! See, now you’ve reminded me of someone else I forgot. Great list. Hope you enjoy it.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. June 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Horses for courses – of course! 😀 I’m afraid that really ‘proper’ B & M book shops (that could so easily look very rude without the spacing! 😛 ) with more shelves than floorspace seldom suit my physical failings these days… 😦 Steps and uneven floors also pose probs – but the high street chains will always have browsing appeal for me still.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Every bookshop should have to fulfil accessibility rules these days surely, Jan? Although the older more quirky ones probably struggle to do so.


      • June 20, 2017 at 8:26 pm

        It’s not so much accessibility as not being able to do standing around browsing – I’ll have to get me one of those clever walking sticks that can transform into stadium seats… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. annerallen
    June 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    This is so true. Amazon is unable to understand the concept of gift book buying. I once bought a book for my nephew when he was small that was about trolls. For ever and ever after, I get emails suggesting I buy children’s books about trolls. My nephew is now a university graduate working at the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. and has pretty much lost his interest in children’s troll books. But I might like to buy him something about the Middle East. It would be very hard to find on Amazon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      That annoys me too, Anne – Amazon seems the opposite of the bookshop experience, reminding us instead of things we don’t want to be reminded of. Wonder what they’ll do to Wholefoods now! ‘People who bought avocados also bought quinoa’?!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. June 20, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Haha I love everything about this post! Mostly because I do the exact same thing 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. June 20, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I love this so much. I recently did a signing in the local bookshop in my home town (the only place where I am a celebrity, assuming the attendance of several of my old high school teachers and anyone else my mother could muster counts as “celebrity”). It’s the kind of place where you can sip coffee from the shop next door and trade lines of poetry with owner before purchasing your new favorite book, which will be promptly wrapped in brown paper. Amazon is not nearly so charming.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Sounds to me like better celebrity credentials than half the reality stars on TV, Sarah. And your bookshop sounds like heaven. Brown paper. Sigh. Just perfect…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. June 20, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    One of the problems with Amazon as with Goodreads is the algorithms they use to predict what you would like to read next. The marketing industry is forever going on about how sophisticated Amazon’s algorithm is but I dont find that to be the case – it recommends I read books I’ve bought from them in the past for example. So I have learned to ignore all of those and rely on blogger recommendations with occasional recommendations from newspaper reviews or publisher newsletters. I add these to my Goodreads wishlist. And then guess what – I completely forget that I’ve put them there…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 20, 2017 at 11:24 pm

      I didn’t know that Amazon recommended books you’d already bought from them. That is a major fail, and shows that the algorithms aren’t working at all on one level. Shame on them. Really!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. June 20, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    I love browsing through bookshops and libraries too. There’s an atmosphere there that Amazon just can’t replicate. Same with reading actual books rather than a Kindle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 21, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Absolutely, Penne. I just have this gut feeling about certain books sometimes that I don’t want to read them on kindle.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. June 21, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    I love browsing bookstores. The thing is, Tara, that bookshops also are positioning books and offering a limited selection based on what they think you might enjoy. They are, in a way, limiting your choices more than Amazon does. What they do differently is offer visual eye-candy, a room full of covers where the eyes and fingers can flicker over the aisles and remember those best seller reviews. Online retailers give you the same thing if you merely look at the top sellers in different categories. You just can’t feast on them.

    What I took away from your post was the importance of reviews and repetitive marketing which add up to name recognition. Hearing a book mentioned over and over again, so that at some point a reader says, “Oh yeah, I remember that one. I forgot about it. I’m buying it.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 22, 2017 at 10:23 am

      I don’t think online retailers can give you the same thing on any level, though, Diana, which was really my point. Through several clever merchandising tricks, that bookshop led me to buying unexpected books in wildly different genres. I don’t see that as limiting. An online retailer isn’t going to recommend Hillbilly Elegy to me when I buy The Gathering. That’s why they lose out on impulse sales. Their also-bought algorithms can’t deal with bestsellers in many different categories at the same time; only the bestsellers in the same category, which is not what I want. One book from each category is enough, unless I’m buying a series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm

        I see your point. And I do love bookshops. Just walking in the door is a mystical experience which Amazon will never be able to recreate. The nearest one for me is an hour drive, each way, so I tend to purchase online and download. Many of the books I buy aren’t available in the shops anyway. I’ll conclude that having both is awfully nice. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • June 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm

          It most certainly is. Isn’t it well for me, having so many fabulous shops on my doorstep? You’d wonder how I ever complain at all 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  16. June 21, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    I agree entering a bookshop has me unzipping my purse – but sadly most of us indie authors can’t get our books into them 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 22, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Distribution is a really thorny issue, I agree. It’s the most expensive part of the bookselling process, and that makes it truly tough.


  17. June 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

    You’re giving me a hankering for a browsing Tara. Caitlin Moran wrote a great piece about libraries being cathedrals of the soul, which makes bookshops the citadels of town centres. Or something. (Hope Dept of Spec didn’t disappoint 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 24, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      I’ll let you know. It’s very pleasing so far. But I knew it would be. Being a fan of yours and all that 😀


  18. Sue Bridgwater
    June 26, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Reblogged this on Skorn and commented:
    Me too, me too.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. June 26, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    All very true, but some of us don’t stay near a bookshop with so many having closed. And to travel to one can be a nightmare of crawling traffic and non-existent parking. For me charity shops are the nearest I get to real bookshops, and they do provide a buzz when I discover a book by a favourite author, or one that looks interesting. And I’ve lost count of the many great reads I’ve enjoyed through picking up a book, author and title unknown, and discovering on starting to read that I’ve chanced on a gem.

    My biggest disappointment in buying a new book was when going on holiday and looking for an additional title to cram into hand luggage. I picked up a book everyone was raving about and whose cover image kept appearing on Amazon and other emails. I couldn’t force myself past the first three chapters. The lesson for me was not to rely on the thoughts of others but to go with what appeals to me, irrespective of where I buy the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 28, 2017 at 2:46 am

      Some of the best books I’ve read have been recommendations from other people or even just mentioned in passing, Dorothy, but I agree it doesn’t always work out that way!


  20. June 27, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Well, I got that one wrong. When you said ‘do you see a pattern emerging?’ I thought you were going to say all the books you picked up had been preselected for promotion in prominent positions in the shop. A sort of humanised algorithm with the book shop manager deciding what customers will want to read.

    Sorry. I’ll try harder in future. For the record, Youtube’s column of video suggestions has yielded a goldmine of bands and musicians I’d never heard of. Amazon never seems to do that; it seems to think we want eight versions of the same thing..

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 28, 2017 at 2:49 am

      You’re not wrong, though, Chris. Whether it was a humanised algorithm or not, it worked. Each of the stash I’ve read so far has also been excellent, so it was a double hit and I’m not complaining.

      You’re right about YouTube too. Amazon might be super smashing at getting merchandise out of warehouses and on the road, but they haven’t a clue when it comes to the science/art of merchandising.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. June 29, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Reblogged this on just write and commented:
    Ever had a problem finding your next book to read? Or been disappointed when your choice wasn’t quite what you’d expected? Award-winning blogger Tara Sparling shares her thoughts on this very problem …

    Liked by 1 person

  22. July 3, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    Shopping online for books definitely doesn’t compare to browsing for them in a brick and mortar store of any sort. I love to browse for books. I do like Amazon when I’m searching for a specific book or type of book though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 9, 2017 at 9:57 am

      I agree, Sonia. There is no comparison, even though we keep making it. They each have their unique offerings and deficits.

      Liked by 1 person

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